Part 7. Gold. Words by Jenny Knight.
Emma asked me if I would like to be a guest blogger on her amazing blog. I immediately said yes because I love writing. I tried to write a poem. I tried to write something funny. I tried to write something wise. Little did I know that in the short term this news would take away my ability to find and use words. I’ve become unable to express myself, because for the first time in my life the feelings I have are so intense and so deep that there are no words to do them justice. So this is just a stream of consciousness. Not poetic, not lyrical, unstructured and just my chance to spill onto paper my thoughts and feelings. It’s the truth and it’s untamed. And it has helped me. Thanks to Emma for making this possible for me.
What are those feelings? A mix of terror, shock, despair, confusion, denial and foreboding combined with such an overpowering love for the beautiful woman that is my daughter that I would open up my own body and take her cancer from her in a heartbeat. The feeling of impotence, uselessness, utter sadness and paralysis. The discomfort (and slight resentment) that comes with watching other people getting on with their lives in a world where for me everything has stopped. All this is mixed together to create what feels like thick sludge dragging me down – stopping me from breathing properly, making it hard to get out of bed, to walk from one place to another, to talk to anybody about anything other than the fact that my incredible daughter has cancer, to smile back when smiled at. It feels like slowly drowning.
Holding it together is agony and I think damaging. I realised that quite quickly. In fact my body didn’t even let me hold those terrible feelings inside. I had no control. At first I thought I should be ‘strong’ and protect everyone from my horrendous grief, but that was a dumb idea. I feel what I feel and I’ve learned very quickly that I must give myself permission to express it, however it manifests itself.
I’ve cried out loud alone, after holding it together until the house was empty, and I’ve found myself crying at the wall “who can I talk to? Who can I talk to? I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do…”. Then in desperation, tears rolling down my face, calling a friend who has listened to me wailing and sobbing, unable to express myself rationally. There have been around 6 friends who have received these crazy calls from me in the last 3 weeks, and I know it must have been really upsetting for them. But they have all listened, been loving and supportive, held back on the advice, completely understood why I would feel the way I feel and stayed on the phone until I calmed down. Thanks to them the pain has subsided. The pain subsides because of the cleansing effect of letting my grief out, freely and without restraint. And those friends who have listened while I’ve sobbed have helped me more than they will ever know. And once I decided not to try to be ‘strong’ in a misguided attempt to protect my loved ones, asked my wonderful husband to listen to my deepest fears, choked out through tears, and, while dealing with his own shock and pain coupled with his concern for me, he has allowed me to face them and deal with them. He knows this has to happen for me. I’ve explained to him that I must be able to say everything. I don’t do half truths, platitudes, cliches or blind faith. I have to face what is, and not what I wish it is. Then I can be stronger again. For a while, anyway. He understands and he takes whatever I dump all over him with love and fortitude. But I know this is really hard for him too, so finding a balance is key. There’s no instruction manual for this. But we’ll work it out. Those people who have been there either physically or on the phone while I’ve sobbed, choked, wailed and been beyond logic or coherent speech have done the most important thing – soaked it up, accepted my pain and understood. Nothing else is needed. No advice, no anecdotes – just an acceptance of the way I feel. That is so healing for me. You know who you are and I’m so grateful to you. Thank you.
Now I’m in a better place. I say ‘better’ because it’s all relative. I’m overwhelmed at what we have to face as a family and most particularly what Emma has to face over the coming months, but I get the feeling we can do it. Not least because of the strength demonstrated by my beautiful, incredible, astonishing daughter. She faces it with such wisdom and in such a measured way, while accepting that at times she will crack. I am in awe of her and feel so privileged to be her mother. But then she was always like this, even as a little girl. When she had a nasty accident aged 3 or 4 I had to rush her to A&E in my brother’s car, and in all her pain and distress she reminded me to put my seatbelt on. She has looked after me from the day she was born. My daughter has taught me more than I have ever taught her. I said at her wedding that it was as if someone had given me this beautiful flowering plant, which I clumsily cared for, sometimes following the instructions and sometimes in a bit of a random way while trying to juggle my complicated, messy life. And one day I looked around and the flowering plant had grown into the sweetest most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And I honestly don’t think I can take the credit. Emma was always going to be amazing, not because of but in spite of me. Our lives together as mother and daughter have been full of challenges – hers or mine, and in the darkest times Emma has always been smiling. She has been my rock. And so to the inevitable question that every bystander watching someone go through this will ask. Why her? Why my daughter? Why this beautiful woman who has faced so many challenges and disappointments in her life with grace, honesty and forgiveness. I’ve pleaded with the air to give her a break. I’ve shouted that out, to the wall, the sky, to whatever makes this happen. I don’t believe in God. I never have, even as a child. I don’t mind if others do though. Whatever gets you through. I believe in goodness because I’ve learned what it is from my daughter. Emma has goodness, in bucket loads. That’s why she has this massive army of people right there with her, willing to take on anything to help her through this. That’s why her two daughters are so full of gentleness, compassion, love and wisdom. There is so much goodness and kindness all around Emma.
This is a ramble. But I’m not going to structure it and make it neat and tidy. Life isn’t neat and tidy and my response to what is happening is anything but neat and tidy so maybe this is how I should write at the moment.
It was my birthday yesterday. Even in the middle of all this Emma booked a table at a lovely restaurant for us, on the understanding that we could cancel at the last minute if she felt ill. We had a beautiful lunch with free champagne kindly donated by the owner, who is an old friend of Emma’s. The sun shone, we sat looking out over beautiful Brighton beach and Emma and I shared a lovely fish pie and a pudding comprising candy floss, ice creams, nougat, doughnuts and chocolate. I think it was called ‘taste of the pier’. It was as good a birthday as it could be, full of kindness that Emma seems to bring with her and infect people with everywhere she goes.
I’ll finish by quoting my daughter’s message to me in my birthday card – see the message on the front of the card at the beginning of this ramble. This card was accompanied by a gold rimmed bowl and a gold good luck charm. Her words are proof of how utterly privileged I am to be her mother:
“ To my darling mum
This may not be the most fun birthday but you have all my love and gratitude for the huge love you show me. I will repair, I’ll have another unique piece of history, and I love gold, so all will be well.
We are not broken, just chipped for now.
I love you.
Me and my mama on Christmas day, when I didn’t know I had cancer. I love my mum with every part of my being. She’s like no other mum. Other people even say so. EK. x